Nowadays, the student loan struggle is real. If I took a poll to see how many of my friends are stuck with education debt, I don’t think a single one would say they made it out unscathed.
While most of my peers are feeling financial pressure from student loans, they may soon have help. Gradifi, a platform that makes paying off student debt an employee-employer joint effort, launches Wednesday.
Tim DeMello, a repeat entrepreneur in Boston who founded Gradifi, knows how hard of a blow student loans can be to graduates. “I serve on the Board of Trustees at Babson,” he explained. “Over the years, I’ve seen the student debt problem worsen. And now, I’m amazed at how bad it has become and at how many people it’s affecting.”
After being a little too close to the problem, DeMello decided to do something about it. He’s had great success with startups in the past, founding champions like Streamline.com and Ziggs. So why not use these entrepreneurial super skills for good and help solve the student loan crisis? Sounds easy enough.
“There are people who want to start their own companies, but student indebtedness gets in the way.”
The new employee benefit
Surprisingly, it wasn’t an overambitious goal after all. DeMello knew Gradifi would be appealing to many big players in the business world for one major reason: millennials. His new venture was setting out to make life easier for what he calls “the most desired demographic. Employers, brands, everyone wants them and wants them on their side.”
That’s when DeMello developed the Student Loan Paydown Plan (aka SLP). He explained that it’s analogous to a 401k plan, except that instead of putting away money for the future, grads would be putting it against the past.
Approaching PricewaterhouseCoopers, DeMello threw out the possibility of partnering on this paydown project. The company, whose average employee age is 28, knew DeMello was hitting a hot button issue and gladly agreed. With the official launch of Gradifi, PwC is the first customer – and about 100 other businesses are on the waiting list.
Such high demand for Gradifi so early on shows how DeMello has tapped into a market of great interest. He told me that companies have had younger employees ask for a loyalty program that focused on their immediate needs. Saving for retirement is great, but employees want to stop worrying about their student loans first.
This platform will finally bring about work benefits to help grads get out of the hole faster. Without that financial weight on people’s shoulders, it would open up a number of possibilities – both personal and professional.
“Paying off student loans through Gradifi will save them money and time,” DeMello said. “That means so much to employees. Think: This enables them to do so much, buy a home earlier.”
“Lingering loans are especially relevant in the startup world,” he continued. “There are people who want to start their own companies, but student indebtedness gets in the way.”
More to come
DeMello told me that this initial Gradifi release for employers is only the beginning. He plans to build the platform to be so much more, but he swore me to secrecy. What I can say is that all of the changes to come work in grads’ favors and will put even more money against their loans.